Yokishop: Sustainable innovation in California

I have been on my annual research trip looking at stores, brands and new concepts on the West Coast. It’s nearly time for me to come home and I almost arrived back in the UK empty-handed – until the 11th hour: all was saved when I came across Yokishop. It has made me wonder whether all innovation is now only happening in digital?

Interestingly, the same trend is emerging in both the European and American apparel sectors, and is catching on very quickly. We are all still recovering from Brexit, and the sentiment in the USA regarding Trump and the current elections is making customers desperately seek out authenticity and products that are made locally. I have written before about ‘made in the UK‘, and I think that over the next few years, particularly in clothing manufacturing, there will be a return to locally-made garments. Customers are absolutely sick of walking into 800 chain stores and not knowing whether they are in NYC or Atlanta, London or Berlin. Every high street and shopping mall looks the same with exactly the same merchandise – it’s sometimes hard to differentiate even between brands!

Customers want to know where their garments are being made and who is designing them, and then they want a genuine shopping experience on- or off-line (and it seems that it is at all ends of the market – from Gucci downwards). Many customers no longer want to wear clothes that are mass-produced, and this generation cares about the environment, the workers and the fact that there is so much landfill being generated by too much merchandise (13 million tons of textiles get thrown away every year). So it was with great excitement that I was led to a store in Newport Beach, on the Pacific Coast Highway, away from the malls – one that customers have to either ‘just be in the know’ or discover by accident.


Jeff “Yoki” Yokoyama, of Japanese descent, was born in California and brought up in Los Angeles. At the age of 17 and as a passionate surfer, he moved to Hawaii to “find warm water” but always had an interest in designing surf and skate wear. In 1980, he  created Maui & Sons and began selling it directly to local surfers and kids on beaches and in schools, changing the rules of the game immediately. The operation moved from the boot of his car into a multi-million dollar business before the company was sold. He went on to start various other brands, including Pirate Surf, which he sold to Quiksilver, and Modern Amusement, which he sold to Mossimo. He also did a stint as head designer for Stussy.

“By ‘designing different,’ I design from leftover fabrics found in downtown LA and from old beach towels and sweatshirts that are being discarded at the local Goodwill. By ‘making different,’ we make clothes daily, locally at Yokishop. By ‘selling different’, we sell daily and directly to the end-user.” – Jeff “Yoki” Yokoyama

Today, Yoki lives in Newport Beach, California where he works from a space called Yokishop. It is part design studio, part workshop and part retail in a small space filled with collected items, paintings, books, surfboards and the merchandise. Immediately welcoming, authentic and genuine, one is greeted by Yoki on entering and in the back of the store, his small team deconstructs old garments and repurposes the fabric into new objects. These new pieces are one-of-a-kind examples of a Japanese saying, mottainai, that Yoki has come to embody. Mottainai, he explained to me, means “to use the whole fish.” He believes in the principle of less waste and he is making new from old, trying, in his own way, to drive sustainability in the fashion industry. There is one wall in the building which looks like it is made from large orange bricks – on closer inspection, they turn out to be abandoned orange Nike shoe boxes! Yoki’s projects include repurposing military surplus, university sports uniforms, and most recently he was brought into Levi’s Eureka Lab to introduce his ideas to the world of denim.


Yoki’s concept is simple: “to design different, make different and sell different”. I asked him why he had gone from big businesses to Yokishop: “About eight years ago, I decided to change the way I design, make and sell. By ‘designing different,’ I design from leftover fabrics found in downtown LA and from old beach towels and sweatshirts that are being discarded at the local Goodwill. By ‘making different,’ we make clothes daily, locally at Yokishop. By ‘selling different’, we sell daily and directly to the end-user.” So, in the back of his store, he and his team make products everyday and sell them. They design something new everyday, make it on site and sell it to the end-user – to people that they get to know in the store or online who keep coming back.

Yoki also has a GARDEN Project: Gather, Abundance, Repurpose, Demonstrate, Ethos, Now! USC and UCLA throw tons of sportswear away every year. Yoki gathers the old kits, customises and remakes them and sells them on. They sell out faster than he can make them. It’s not dissimilar to what Supreme is doing, where every collection is a limited edition and most of the stores are sold out! Recently in Soho, I went to the store when there had just been a new delivery – and there was a 45 minute wait to get into the store with people snaking around the block. By the afternoon, even online, everything had been sold!

I came away from Yokishop thinking of  the brilliant M&S campaign during Stuart Rose’s reign, ‘Look Behind The Label’, wondering which other brands genuinely care about sustainability, and feeling inspired and determined to try and only buy sustainable merchandise in food and in clothing.

Moira@thembsgroup.co.uk | @MoiraBengison | @TheMBSGroup